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Hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians are dead after a surprise attack from Gaza

Smoke and flames billow after Israeli forces struck a high-rise tower in Gaza City, on Oct. 7, 2023.
Ashraf Amra
Smoke and flames billow after Israeli forces struck a high-rise tower in Gaza City, Oct. 7, 2023.

In a deadly surprise attack, Gaza militants infiltrated several Israeli towns and military camps and fired thousands of rockets from Gaza toward central and southern Israel. "We are at war," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

NPR's live updates on the swiftly developing crisis are available here.

The latest updates:

The Israeli army says hundreds of Hamas militants 'invaded Israel'

The Israeli military said “hundreds” of Hamas militants were involved in the surprise attack against Israel Saturday morning.

In a news briefing, a spokesman rephrased a question about how many militants had “entered” the country.

“They didn’t enter Israel. They invaded Israel this morning. It’s important to mention that,” said Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli army spokesperson.

He spoke around 8 p.m. local time and said the military was still “engaged” with militants in 22 locations, including in situations where Israeli hostages were being held. He would not provide numbers for hostages or what Israel has called “prisoners of war,” held in Israel or taken to Gaza.

He said militants had fired more than 3,000 missiles at Israel, a number that did not include a barrage minutes earlier he said was fired toward Tel Aviv.

Hecht also denied that recent troop buildups in the Israeli-occupied West Bank had taken troops away from the Gaza border.

He would not discuss Israel’s attacks on Hamas in Gaza except to say that “everything's on the table,” including a possible ground incursion. “We are in full battle rhythm and ready for a long, long,” event, he said.

President Biden condemns attacks in Israel

President Biden condemned the Hamas attacks in Israel and pledged "rock-solid" support for the country.

"We will not ever fail to have their back," Biden said on Saturday.

He added that his staff will continue to be in contact with leaders throughout the region, including Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan as well as the Palestinian Authority.

The president has spent much of the day meeting with his national security advisers as the crisis unfolded.

Death toll rises in Gaza, with over 230 Palestinians killed following Israel's strikes

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said about 232 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 1,700 others have been injured. The deaths come after the Israeli military launched air strikes over the region in response to the Hamas assault.

Reactions in the Middle East reflect Palestinian woes in Gaza, West Bank

Governments across the Middle East are calling for calm and restraint, but several are also saying that this dramatic escalation in violence didn’t happen in a vacuum.

The statements issued by Middle East leaders on Saturday have been measured and cautious. They balance between an understanding the U.S. will back Israel's full-scale response to this brazen attack by militants in the Gaza Strip, as well as a public Arab sentiment around the suffering of some 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza, who have struggled with years of blockade and the trauma of past wars with Israel.

The United Arab Emirates, which has ties with Israel, issued a brief statement calling for “utmost restraint and an immediate ceasefire in order to avoid serious repercussions."

Jordan and Turkey issued similar calls for restraint, though Jordan also said it’s been warning of the repercussions of Israeli raids throughout Palestinian cities in the West Bank. The AP said nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed this year by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Egypt, which has mediated in past wars between militant groups in Gaza and Israel, says its foreign minister has spoken to counterparts across Europe and the Middle East to try to bring some calm to the situation.

Saudi Arabia, which is in serious talks with the Biden administration to formalize ties with Israel, said it has repeatedly been warning of “an explosive situation” in the absence of a peace process and continued Israeli occupation. It called for restraint on both sides.

Qatar, meanwhile, said it holds Israel alone responsible for the current escalation due to its ongoing violations of Palestinians rights, including skirmishes and clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police at the sensitive holy site of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem, sacred to Muslims and Jews.

Israeli forces fight to regain control of region around Gaza

Israeli soldiers are fending off Hamas air and ground attacks in 22 locations. Multiple Israeli soldiers have also been killed, though the exact number of casualties has not been determined, chief military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said.

Tanks and fighter jets have been deployed to assist with the efforts to regain control of the Gaza region, which Hagari described as the army's main concern as of now.

Israeli special forces are also deployed in Ofakim and Be'eri, two towns outside of the Gaza Strip where Hamas have taken people as hostages, Hagari said.

He added that the army's goal is for the country to be rid of terrorists. Until then, he urged Israeli citizens to stay home.

Biden vows 'rock solid and unwavering' support to Israel

President Biden provided more details on his call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden told the prime minister that the U.S. is prepared to offer "all appropriate means of support" to the Israeli government, adding that he supports Israel's right to defend itself.

"Terrorism is never justified," Biden said in a statement. "My Administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering."

The president and his staff will continue to closely monitor the situation. Biden added that he will remain in close contact with Netanyahu.

According to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently at the White House, attending meetings and calling foreign counterparts regarding the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Netanyahu vows to exact an 'immense price from the enemy'

At an emergency meeting with Israel’s cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Saturday that the country is at war and he seeks "victory."

He said the first objective was to regain control of Israeli communities where Palestinian militants have infiltrated. Israel has begun launching airstrikes on Gaza. Meanwhile, Gaza's rocket fire on Israel continues.

Netanyahu also vowed to exact an "immense price from the enemy" as well as "reinforce other fronts" so that no one mistakenly joins the war.

Israeli military spokesman Nir Dinar told NPR that Hamas has captured Israelis. He could not confirm if there were soldiers or civilians among those taken hostage. Hamas said it has taken Israelis hostage and aims to release Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.